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Former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Yuri Temirkanov backs players in bitter labor dispute

Former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Yuri Temirkanov backs players in bitter labor dispute
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians on the picket line outside Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in June. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Yuri Temirkanov, the former music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has written a letter from Russia voicing his support for the musicians who are locked out of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in a bitter labor dispute.

In a letter dated June 25, Temirkanov, artistic director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, wrote:

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”I have heard of your recent challenges and am following from afar your firm resistance to board and management efforts to reduce the artistic quality of the Orchestra by reducing the number of weeks of full-time employment.

”I want to ensure you of my support for you and all that you are working to achieve to preserve and perpetuate the high artistic standards of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. …

”Surely, there is sufficient support in Baltimore and at Strathmore — and across the State of Maryland — to ensure many years of artistic excellence and great music-making for the benefit of all.”

Temirkanov was music director of the BSO from 2000 to 2006.

The musicians and the organization are attempting to negotiate a new contract. Temirkanov’s letter referred to a proposal by management to shorten the season from 52 weeks to 40, accompanied by a roughly 20 percent pay cut.

Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, has said the reduction is necessary because the orchestra has incurred $16 million in losses over the past decade. The musicians have been locked out of the Meyerhoff since June 17; most received their final paycheck for the summer three days earlier.

“We appreciate Maestro Temirkanov's perspective on the current situation, but the financial realities confronting the BSO require us to reduce our operating costs while maintaining a robust performance schedule,” Kjome said in a statement of response Monday. “The approach we have proposed has worked for orchestras such as those in Detroit, Atlanta, and St. Louis, which have continued to maintain their standing as major orchestras. …”

Temirkanov is the most recent artistic leader of the orchestra to voice his support for a 52-week season. On June 24, David Zinman, who led the orchestra from 1985 to 1998, visited the picket line and said he was “shocked, mortified and horrified” to hear of the contemplated reduction.

The BSO’s current music director, Marin Alsop, has not expressed her opinion about the proposal to cut the season by 12 weeks.

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